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Wing research: Airbus allows testing of unmanned aircraft

Wing research: Airbus allows testing of unmanned aircraft

With a new wing with foldable tips, Airbus wants to reduce fuel consumption by up to 10 percent. The test aircraft, the Cessna, will take off without people on board.

Thin wings with great span – Both Airbus and Boeing want to save fuel in the future. The American aircraft manufacturer wants to attach the wings with cross braces to the fuselage. Airbus is based on a different concept.

“We have a renderer of what’s called a Performance Plus Suite, which has a large span and is very thin,” Sabine Kluck, Airbus chief technology officer, explained recently in an interview with aeroTELEGRAPH. “It has foldable wingtips that open automatically in flight using sensors when loading conditions occur due to turbulence.”

Learn bird wings

Although long wings provide aerodynamic advantages, they also transmit higher forces to the wing roots in turbulence. To counter this, Boeing uses struts. Airbus relies on wingtips, which the aircraft automatically adjusts to the correct position when it detects turbulence via laser scanning.

Another problem: the long wing swings more. “You have to face it,” says Christophe Nau, an Airbus engineer who works on the performance add-on suite. “For this purpose, we have small spaces on the trailing edge of the landing flaps that act like ailerons, 11 per side.” It works in a similar way to the feathers on a bird’s wing.

A model of the Performance Plus Wing at the Paris Air Show.

The third wings are longer

Unlike the Boeing 777X, which only uses foldable wing tips on the ground, the fold tips of the Airbus project are much longer. They lengthen the wing by a third. The European aircraft manufacturer will use this technology Test on a Cessna quotewhich has a wingspan of six meters, an additional two meters.

The Cessna is currently in service with Airbus in Toulouse, and production of the new wing is taking place in Filton, Great Britain. This year, the aircraft manufacturer will conduct flight tests with Cessna with conventional wings in order to obtain reference values. Next year, the business jet will receive new wings, and the flight test phase, which will last about two years, is scheduled for the end of 2024 or the beginning of 2025. There is one special feature.

Cessna is controlled from the ground

“We’ll fly the plane like a drone, with a pilot on the ground who will control it remotely,” Nao says. You choose this route “so that we have safety requirements that are not as important as regular passenger aircraft.”

Where can Airbus implement this? “In Cazaaux, on the French Atlantic coast, in a military zone,” explains the engineer. The plane will also get the new wings there. The conversion to the remote-controlled plane is done by an unnamed supplier.

for all aircraft programs

Airbus expects fuel savings of between 5 and 10 percent from the new wing. It was not specifically designed for a new type of aircraft, such as the successor to the A320 Neo. “We’re developing technology for all aircraft programs,” Nao says.